Budget 2016: Non-municipal spending doubles

Trent Ernst, Editor

Tumbler Ridge is currently looking at spending close to $1-million on non-municipal spending 2016.

That’s double what the spending was last year, and represents nearly ten percent of the core budget.

This, says CAO Jordan Wall, is out of line with similar projects undertaken by communities in the region.

Dawson Creek, for instance, spends just under one percent of its core budget on non-municipal expenses, while Chetwynd spends just over one percent.

Non-municipal spending includes things like Grant-in-Aid, Fee-for-Service grants and the Tumbler Ridge Golf Course.

“Tumbler Ridge can afford this,” said Wall in a presentation to Council on April 19. “If Council thinks it is worth it, we can keep going at this level. If Council takes a look at this and says ‘well, maybe we need to take a look at this,” in 2017 we can look at introducing a new Fee-for-Service and Grant-in-Aid policy that will help Council control [spending].”

Councillor Will Howe recommended taking a look at the Fee-for-Service and Grant-in-Aid spending for this year. “We have committed to $850,000 in Grant-in-Aid and Fee-for-Services,” he says. “We’ve more than doubled the amount that gave last year. I don’t like the process that now we’re committed to $850,000, without having the opportunity to look at it at the end of the budget and say ‘you know what? We put too much of this in, and now we have to take some out.’ Staff was able to reduce their budget by one and a half percent, we’ve managed to increase ours [Council’s] by 100 percent. We have to take a good look in the mirror. To see where we can carve this down.”

Howe says he was under the impression the amounts being asked for by the community was simply being added to the budget so they could look at the numbers, and they would have a chance to review at the end of the process. “I was under the impression that we’d put it into the budget and discuss it further on and then be able to say ‘sorry, we can’t give you $200,000, but we can give you $180,000.’ If there’s no way we can take it back without hurting anyone’s feeling, my impression for next year is why would I ever approve it ahead of the budget?”

Councillor Caisley says he understands Councillor Howe’s issue, and something needs to change for next year. “But as far as the applicants go, I’m sure that they count on it, and they may have already made moves to do their business as they see fit, so I have a real problem with changing it after Council has already voted on it.”

Councillor Mackay says this is a discussion long overdue. “I think it’s ethically wrong for us to go back and say ‘wait a minute, we’re going to change our minds.’ I would not be in favour of doing that, but [we need to] make sure that the rules are set in stone for this time next year.”

Councillor Krakowka says he was also under the impression that none of the Fee-for-Service and new Grant-in-Aid requests were passed until the budget was passed. “I thought the discussion we had was to add them to the budget, not to approve them.”

Wall says because he was only hired a few months ago, at the beginning of the budget process, he told Council that they would be making decisions that would carry on. “In that sense, it was communicated to Council we would be looking at decisions, and that we wouldn’t be going back on those.”

He says the other thing is the Grant-in-Aid and Fee-for-Service Policy has nothing in it that would allow Council to pass a motion allotting a Fee-for-Service, then to claw them back. “As a board of governors, as a Councillor for the municipality, you need to be aware of the policies you are operating under. These are your policies. These are rules you set down for yourselves.”

Wall says the contracts haven’t been signed, but Council has passed motions, and those groups may have already taken steps to spend that money based on the motions that were approved. “Based on your policy, that is what is required. If they take steps based on those policies, I am not sure of the legal liabilities the District would have to go back and reduce that money.”